Top Seeds Tumble – Day 3: BCA Indonesia Open 2017

The wretched fortunes of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi took another twist this morning as the top seeds and defending Women’s Doubles champions were felled in the first round of the BCA Indonesia Open 2017.

In the day’s opening fixture, the Japanese – whose best result on tour this season has been runners-up in Singapore – were knocked out of the Superseries Premier event by Huang Yaqiong and Yu Xiaohan, 21-7 22-20. The Chinese grabbed control of the match in the first game and, though the points were closer in the second, dug in at the critical moments to ensure they took the honours at Jakarta Convention Center.

Once again, Matsutomo and Takahashi were left pondering how their results have plummeted compared to a year ago when they were Olympic champions and winners of five Superseries events, including Superseries Premiers in England, Indonesia and Denmark. While three other Japanese pairs romped into the second round, they were at pains to explain what happened, conceding they made a lot of errors and that, right now, their best is simply not good enough.

On the adjoining court, a similar fate was unfolding for Men’s Doubles top seeds and one of Indonesia’s prime hopes for a title at this tournament, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon. The star pairing, winners of three Superseries already this year, cut a picture of shell-shocked dejection as they trudged from the court while Denmark’s Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (featured image) celebrated victory, 21-16 21-16 in 34 minutes.

“We played one of our best matches ever. Kevin and Marcus are a world-class pair. We knew we would have to step up our game and control the match and also have good defence,” said Rasmussen, adding that shifting drift in the arena heightened their challenge.

“We wanted to defend our semi-final points from last year but we got a tough draw so we just focused on this match.”

The vanquished Sukamuljo and Gideon acknowledged “we were not on top of our game” and Sukamuljo revealed a recent shoulder injury hampered his shot-making.

“I got injured in training last week and every time I tried to smash I felt pain,” he told media.

Though buoyed by this result, Danish fans were stunned in the evening by the demise of No.7 seeds, Mad Conrad-Petersen and Mads Pieler Kolding, who seemed to have command of their match with a 19-15 lead in the decider, only to perish in the end. The outcome was even a surprise to winners Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov; the latter bluntly stating “We don’t know how we made that comeback”.

The Russians had pulled away at 12-12 to win the opener to which their rivals answered emphatically by leading the second game from the outset and yielding only ten points. The Danes continued in that authoritative vein in the decider, speeding ahead 7-0 and maintaining a good buffer at 17-12. However, Ivanov and Sozonov began to narrow the gap, with a 7-2 run levelling matters 19-19 before the Danes earned match point. It was not to be though as the next three points went Russia’s way, ushering them into the second round: 21-16 10-21 22-20 in 57 minutes.

Denmark’s disappointment was tempered by the progression of two of its other Men’s Doubles pairs (Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen and Mathias Christiansen/David Daugaard). China’s Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan, Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, and Chai Biao/Hong Wei, all advanced though their compatriots, Lu Kai/Zheng Siwei were sidelined due to Lu being injured. Thailand’s Bodin Isara/Nipitphon Phuangphuapet and Kittinupong Kedren/Dechapol Puavaranukroh are also into the second round while hosts, Indonesia, have three pairs to fight their cause (Ricky Karanda Suwardi/Angga Pratama; Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto; and Hendra Aprida Gunawan/Markis Kido). Another Indonesian son, Hendra Setiawan and his Malaysian partner, Tan Boon Heong, survived a dramatic test by Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe.

Apart from the top seeds’ departure, Women’s Doubles suffered no other upheaval with the remaining seeds advancing. China’s No.7 seeds (Huang Dongping/Li Yinhui) withdrew yesterday due to Li’s back injury. One of the category’s most exciting encounters today was the clash between Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu of Indonesia and Korea’s Chae Yoo Jung/Kim So Yeong. The local pair earned a hard-fought 15-21 25-23 21-14 win.

“We weren’t settled in the first game but we were determined not to lose. Thank God we won the second game and eventually the match. The drift made the shuttle difficult to control so we had to be patient and not rush to beat our opponents,” said Polii.

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Indonesia Reignites Superseries!

Fans are revving up for the resumption of the MetLife BWF World Superseries tour next week with one of the calendar’s most popular – and definitely most noisy – tournaments: the BCA Indonesia Open 2017!

This season, however, the decibel level will be fever pitch, not at the accustomed Istora Senayan, but at the Jakarta Convention Center as the regular venue is undergoing refurbishment ahead of next year’s Asian Games.

Nonetheless, when badminton’s big guns reignite ther battle in the Indonesian capital, they will be zeroing in on the top eight spots to enhance their qualification chances for the the Dubai World Superseries Finals. The season’s eight highest-ranked singles players and doubles pairs will compete in the desert showdown for a share of the US$1million jackpot from 13-17 December this year.

In Men’s Singles, Chou Tien Chen (Chinese Taipei) leads the standings after four out of 12 events, followed by Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. Chinese superstar, Lin Dan; Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong; Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Thailand); Wong Wing Ki (Hong Kong) and young Chinese ace, Shi Yuqi, round out the top contenders in that order.

Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying – riding a wave of unprecedented success – has been victorious in three of the four Superseries events held this season so far, to sit atop Women’s Singles in the Destination Dubai Rankings. Unbeaten since last November in Hong Kong, Tai has won five Superseries in succession; with only the India title eluding her as she did not compete in Delhi.

Close on her heels is Carolina Marin, with Spain’s Olympic gold medallist having been runner-up three weeks on a stretch in India, Malaysia and Singapore. The consistent Sung Ji Hyun of Korea is third overall, thanks to semi-final runs in every Superseries this season.

Akane Yamaguchi (Japan), Pusarla V Sindhu (India), Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand), Nozomi Okuhara (Japan) and Sun Yu (China) round out the elite eight.

Men’s Doubles supremos, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo/Marcus Fernaldi Gideon (featured image), will enjoy deafening support when they take to home court next week. Having blazed to the top of the podium in three Superseries this season, the Indonesians head the standings followed by China’s twin towers, Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, and Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda of Japan.

Another Indonesian pair – Angga Pratama and Ricky Karanda Suwardi – are in fourth place, with Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding (Denmark), Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong (Malaysia), Bodin Isara/Nipitphon Phuangphuapet (Thailand) ranking fifth to seventh respectively. Meanwhile, Denmark’s evergreen masters, Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark, have moved into reckoning with their victory in the OUE Singapore Open 2017 to be in eighth position currently.

YONEX All England Open 2017 champions, Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee, are the leaders of the Women’s Doubles pack. Having starred in Korea’s recent Sudirman Cup success, they will be keen to continue their strong form in Jakarta. Their compatriots, Jung Kyung Eun and Shin Seung Chan are in third place but the big headline in this category is that Japan has four pairs in the top seven of the Destination Dubai Rankings!

Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open champions Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota are in second place. These Japanese came of age rapidly this season, with a quarter-final in Birmingham, followed by a semi-final in Delhi, before winning in Kuching. Their team-mates, Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao, are in fifth while another Japanese pair, Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto – champions in their first Superseries final in India – are sixth. Japan’s Rio 2016 gold medallists, Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi are seventh, having lost their only Superseries final this season  (Singapore) to Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl who are fourth overall. China’s recently-paired Huang Yaqiong/Tang Jinhua are beginning to make inroads and sit in eighth at the moment.

Huang Yaqiong’s name has featured prominently in Mixed Doubles though, as she and partner, Lu Kai, have reached all four Superseries finals – capturing three of them. They are comfortably ahead of the competition in the Destination Dubai Rankings, with Chinese peers, Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen, who defeated them in the Kuching finale, currently in second place. The blossoming partnership of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai has been reaping handsome rewards and the Thai tandem are third in race for the desert classic.

England’s Adcock household – Chris and Gabby – are fourth with Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying in fifth. The remainder of the top eight is completed by Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen (Denmark); Olympic gold medallists, Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir (Indonesia); and Korea’s upcoming duo, Choi Solgyu/Chae Yoo Jung – fresh from clinching the Sudirman Cup for their country.

The BCA Indonesia Open 2017 will be followed by the CROWN GROUP Australian Open 2017 in Sydney. These two events will bring the MetLife BWF World Superseries to its halfway mark and fans will get a better picture of how fortunes are shaping up. Exciting times and more surprises are certainly ahead with stops in Japan, Korea, Denmark, France, China and Hong Kong in the second half of the season.

Korea Storm into Final – Day 7 (Session 1): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

When Korean head coach Kang Kyung Jin predicted at the start of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 that his team would likely make the final, only the team’s staunchest supporters would’ve expected that to come true.

And yet, that’s exactly what happened as the three-time champions, having arrived in Gold Coast with a clutch of teenaged players, surged into the final beating Thailand 3-1.

When Women’s Singles ace Sung Ji Hyun (featured image) extracted an error after a nervous spell against Ratchanok Intanon in the fourth match of the semi-final tie, it marked a special chapter in Korean badminton – for the Asian powerhouse had arrived in Gold Coast without their biggest names. For Sung, it was a battle to prove herself – for, as she later admitted, she had often faltered in crunch semi-final and final matches. The destination is still in sight, but for Korea, to make the final itself was a herculean task at the beginning of the Sudirman Cup.

For a while on Saturday, though, it looked like it was going to be Thailand’s day in the sun.

Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, their talismanic Mixed Doubles combination of recent times, were top-notch against Choi Solgyu and Chae Yoo Jung in the opening match. Puavaranukroh was a picture of frenetic energy and creative shotmaking, opening up the court with some acute angles from the deep, while Taerattanachai overshadowed her opposite number Chae Yoo Jung by disallowing her any leeway at the net. All through the match, Chae barely exerted her presence at the front, with the Thais successful in pushing the Koreans back and surging forward at the first opportunity. The Thais finished off the job in 41 minutes, 21-16 21-12.

All the pressure was on Korea’s Men’s Singles spearhead Son Wan Ho –  his opponent Suppanyu Avihingsanon, despite losing five previous matches to the Korean, flew with the momentum his compatriots had created. The tall Thai was all aggression and pace as he pocketed the first game, and it took all of Son’s defensive brilliance to rein him in. The Korean gradually found his tempo, and yet it was a tight match until 17 in the third, after which Avihingsanon made four soft errors to hand Son the match: 18-21 21-10 21-17.

“My legs felt heavy because of the matches I played this week,” said Son. “I felt tired in the first game, but knew I had to win. I’ve beaten him five times before, but in February it went to three games. Also, today is the semifinal and I was under greater pressure. He is an attacking player, I had to focus on my defence and cut down on my errors.”

After his exuberant display in the Mixed Doubles, it was a deflated Dechapol Puavaranukroh who turned up for the Men’s Doubles with Bodin Isara against Choi Solgyu and Seo Seung Jae. There was little spark in the Thai combination – Bodin was unusually leaden-footed, while Puavaranukroh’s touch let him down. At the opposite end, it was youngster Jae who stood out, both for his nearly error-free play as for his stunning winners off unusual angles.

There were some terrific, fast-paced exchanges in the opening game, and once the Koreans had it sewn up, they were mostly in control in the second. The 21-13 21-16 victory for Choi and Seo meant Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon had a rescue job on her hands.

The Thai however was way below her best, unable to stick in the rallies that Sung forced her into and erring with the fine placements that she is usually masterly at. With a 16-5 lead in the second, Sung was cruising, but some late jitters saw Intanon creep up to within three points before the Korean converted her third match point.

Intanon said nerves had gotten the better of her: “I didn’t feel good at all today, and I was nervous. I had no trouble with injury… it took me a while to find my rhythm, but it was too late by then.”

Korean head coach Kang beamed from ear to ear.

“It is just amazing,” he said. “We’ve made history. This year our team was called weak. At the last minute our senior Men’s Doubles players left the team. We targetted the quarter-final. Now we are so happy. This is my third happiest moment – the first time was when I got married, the second when I got my child. This is the third memorable occasion.

“The last two years have not been good for Korean badminton. Now we’re trying to set up a new generation and looking ahead at Tokyo 2020. ”

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Triumphant ‘Thai-tans’! – Day 5 (Session 2): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

The inspired, yet unheralded pairing of two of the many Women’s Doubles players who have come to the fore for Thailand recently provided a sensational shock tonight, ousting Denmark from the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 in emphatic fashion.

Locked 2-2 in Thailand’s nail-biting quarter-final against the No.2 seeds at Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre, Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai (featured image) coolly took to the court and inflicted a battering on the stellar partnership of Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl who were expected, as they have done countless times before, to deliver the decisive point for the European champions.

Instead, it was the scratch duo across the net – in just their second match together – who dominated and dictated from start to finish, romping to a spell-binding 21-15 21-12 triumph in 44 minutes to end the Danes’ error-strewn misery; catapulting Thailand into the headlines and indeed into the medal round. Inconsolable and stunned, Pedersen and Rytter Juhl trudged from the court as their conquerors were swept up in celebration with their joyous team.

“We didn’t pressure ourselves. We tried to stay calm and move them around a lot and not let them settle into the match because, when they are really good when they get into their rhythm,” said 24-year-old Kititharakul in the wake of the memorable 3-2 success.

Taerattanachai, 25, was also pleased to win Mixed Doubles for her country with Dechapol Puavaranukroh; 21-19 21-19 against Mathias Christiansen/Sara Thygesen. Thailand’s other point came compliments their Women’s Singles standard-bearer, Ratchanok Intanon, who was clearly a cut above Line Kjærsfeldt in their first meeting (21-15 21-14). It came at a crucial stage, with Thailand trailing 1-2 after Viktor Axelsen’s commanding Men’s Singles victory against Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (21-15 21-16) and a stirring Men’s Doubles comeback by Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pielder Kolding when all seemed lost versus Bodin Isara/ Nipitphon Phuangphuapet (15-21 21-18 21-16).

Even as Intanon outclassed her opponent, Danish fans felt certain their dependable Women’s Doubles duo would see them to safety but, it was not to be, amid a dynamic onslaught which made the Olympic silver medallists uncharacteristically unsure about their shots and movement. Playing like seasoned partners, Taerattanachai and Kititharakul became increasingly assertive as they switched sides, almost bullying their way to the finish as the neon scoreboard rapidly ticked over in their favour. A thunderous smash by Taerattanachai bisected the out-of-sorts Danes down the middle and, at 19-10, it was all but over.

“This is a big surprise, for us too!” declared delighted Thailand coach, Grithtin Kridtanukoon.

“During our training for this tournament, we mixed and matched different players and these two played well together. They have a good chemistry, though they usually have different partners. We decided to try this combination and it was the key to beating Denmark today. Maybe we will try this pair again.”

Moments later, Thailand learnt their semi-final opponents will be Korea; the latter avenging yesterday’s group-stage loss to Chinese Taipei.

Seizing an unassailable 3-1 advantage – also finalised by their Women’s Doubles exploits, thanks to Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee (21-13 21-18 versus Hsu Ya Ching/Wu Ti Jung) – the Koreans were fittingly steered towards the last four by a resolute performance from new Men’s Singles world No.1, Son Wan Ho. So often shrouded in disappointment for failing to live up to his talent, Son composed himself after dropping the opening game and set about repairing the damage. At 14-6 in the second game, he looked set for a decider only to suddenly find himself fighting to stay alive as Chou levelled at 16-16. A determined Son survived that blip and wrestled control from his rival in the third game. However, leads of 13-8 and 17-13 almost came to nought as a fired-up Chou clawed back into reckoning, even holding match points at 20-18.

On his second match point, the Chinese Taipei ace thought he had it won as Son hit deep and the shuttle was called out but an instant review gave Son a lifeline and he clung to it tightly, even saving a third match point before clinching victory: 3-21 21-18 23-21 in 91 gruelling minutes.

“I felt anxious when I lost the first game but I had to focus and get on top in the match. It was tough and I am very glad to have won,” said Son who turned 29 last week.

Korea also triumphed in a fiery Men’s Doubles battle, with Choi Solgyu and Seo Seung Jae getting past Lee Jhe Huei and Lee Yang, 21-16 14-21 21-17. Chinese Taipei’s lone success was in Women’s Singles, with Tai Tzu Ying defeating Sung Ji Hyun, 21-14 26-24.

Thailand Survive – Day 2 (Session 2): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

Thailand’s ambitions of reaching the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 quarter-finals were almost derailed tonight by a late-charging Hong Kong.

However, Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai (featured image) kept fans and players from the ‘Land of Smiles’ happy as they defeated Mixed Doubles opponents Lee Chun Hei and Chau Hoi Wah, 21-16 21-16, in the last match of the tie to seal victory 3-2.

Having already been humbled 4-1 by China in their first sub-group 1A clash yesterday, Hong Kong have no chance of advancing in the BWF World Mixed Team Championships in Gold Coast. They put in a gutsy performance though, rallying from 2-0 down in the centre-court battle to square the proceedings 2-2 – thanks to Men’s Singles hero, Ng Ka Long, and long-standing Women Doubles partners, Poon Lok Yan/Tse Ying Suet. The latter held firm in a 76-minute tussle with Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai, prevailing 15-21 21-18 14-21. Their team-mate Ng had set Hong Kong on the comeback trail with a polished dismissal of Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, 21-11 21-16.

It was all to play for as the late-night Mixed Doubles encounter began inside Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre with noisy camps from both teams cheering their players. Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai – who have recently come to the fore internationally – had the answers for all that their rivals threw at them, calmly controlling the first game and then gaining momentum at just the right time in the second as Lee and Chau threatened to pull away at 15-13 ahead. Puavaranukroh, who turned 20 on Sunday, gifted himself a belated birthday present with the winning smash.

“We played well. We didn’t feel any pressure though Hong Kong came back from 2-0 down. In the second game, we were lifting and defending a lot but, when we got to 15-15, we focused and played slower,” explained Taerattanachai.

Earlier Men’s Doubles unit, Bodin Isara and Nipitphon Phuangphuapet outlasted Or Chin Chung and Tang Chun Man, 22-20 17-21 21-11, in an hour and Women’s Singles star, Ratchanok Intanon, manoeuvred past Yip Pui Yin (21-14 21-17) to give Thailand the lead.

On the neighbouring court, Tai Tzu Ying was left to secure Chinese Taipei’s triumph over Russia and the world No.1 made no mistake, cruising through 21-13 21-11 in Women’s Singles versus Evgeniya Kosetskaya. The sub-group 1B tie began with Chinese Taipei taking Mixed Doubles (Wang Chi Lin and Lee Chia Hsin) and Men’s Singles (Chou Tien Chen). Russia snatched Men’s Doubles (Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov) to make the tie 2-1 before Tai settled the matter. Chinese Taipei ended 4-1 with Women’s Doubles (Hsu Ya Ching/Wu Ti Jung) going their way too.

“It’s exciting to play in this team event. I was glad we already had two points before I started my match. It was comfortable for me and I am happy to win. I don’t know how far we can go, but we will fight our best,” said Tai.

Meanwhile, the fortunes in sub-group 3B assumed greater clarity with Sri Lanka and Slovakia shaping up for a top-of-the table clash. They brushed aside Tahiti and Fiji respectively 5-0 to record their second wins of the tournament. Sri Lanka and Slovakia will meet on Wednesday afternoon to determine who tops their sub-group and progresses to fight for Group 3 honours.

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